The Good Luck Charm Page 51

Realistically, I haven’t done any damage to my ankle, but this feels like an omen. I fucked up with Lilah, and this is the start of the downslide. I’m agitated and anxious as I watch practice. I want to call Lilah, to tell her I was right, that I need her. I can’t do this without her, but if I do, I’m going to ruin any chance of getting her back, so instead I stew. Like I’ve been doing for the past week.

“Kase, a word.” Coach motions me over as I’m leaving the locker room after practice.

Josh pats me on the shoulder as he passes. “You want us to wait?”

“Nah, I’ll catch up with you.” I expected this, the being pulled aside for a one-on-one after my performance on the ice today. At least it was just practice, but tomorrow night we have a crucial game. If we win, we start the playoffs against a team we’ve never lost to this season. But if we lose, we play a team we’ve struggled to beat. Obviously a win would put us in a far more favorable position.

“Follow me.” Coach leads me down the hall to his office.

I expect him to sit behind his desk, but he doesn’t. Instead he takes the club chair and points to the one across from him.

“I promise I’ll rest tonight and I’ll have my head in the game tomorrow. And I know I was off a bit the last game, but it won’t happen again.” I only managed an assist and fumbled a potential goal. Thankfully, we still won the game.

Coach raises a hand. “There’s a lot of pressure on the team to do well, and I’m aware you’re feeling that. You’ve had an excellent season, and I have no doubt you’re going to give us your best going into the playoffs, but you need to ease up on yourself out there. You don’t have to be perfect every play. It’s not a failure if you miss one shot or a pass. Or if you have one bad practice.”

Of all the things I anticipated, a lighten-up speech certainly wasn’t it. “I just want to do my best.”

“Your performance this season has made that very clear. I know there’s been a lot on the line for you career-wise, and bringing you home could’ve gone one of two ways. I also know trade talks are coming, and you’re going to have to make some tough decisions once the playoffs are over.”

I drum my fingers on the arm of the chair. “I don’t want to ruin it all by messing up the playoffs.”

“That’s not going to happen.”

“Look how I performed today. What if that happens again? What if I choke?” Shit. I shouldn’t be voicing this to my coach. But it’s what happened every time I was traded to a new team, until I came back home. Until Lilah came back into my life.

“Come on, Kase, you’re a commodity. You’re playing like they expected you to when you were first drafted. People are noticing, and I’m aware of how much pressure that puts on you to perform well all the time. Just remember, how you played during the season isn’t wiped out by one bad game or one bad practice, so don’t put yourself in a negative headspace before you’ve even started the first playoff game.”

“I’ll do my best to go in with a positive frame of mind.” I don’t know how I’m going to manage that, though, unless Lilah miraculously decides she doesn’t want to be on this motherfucking break anymore. With my luck, she’ll probably decide she’s done for good, and then I’ll be fucked for the rest of my goddamn life. So far I’m sucking with the positive attitude shit.

He taps on the arm of his chair. “How’s your father? He still doing okay?”

“Oh yeah, much better. His stubbornness has been as much a pain in the ass as the reason he’s pretty much himself again.” Or as much himself as he’s ever going to be. Some things are harder than others and probably always will be now, and his speech has never fully recovered. A barely noticeable slur affects certain letters. His lack of censor can be tough to take at times, especially when he’s frustrated, but otherwise, he’s good.

“Everything else is okay?”

I look down at my bobbing foot, crossed over my leg at the ankle, and will it to stop shaking. “Everything’s fine.”

He observes me for a moment. “Okay. You let me know if there’s anything you need—extra tickets for tomorrow night’s game, one-on-one with the trainer, physio, massage. We can make it all happen.”

“Thanks, Coach.”

I meet up with the rest of my team at the buffet close to the rink so I can carb-load. Going home hasn’t been all that exciting, not when there’s no one to go home to. That big, empty house feels even emptier without Lilah in it. I’ve woken up the past two nights on the couch in the living room, uninterested in sleeping in the massive king bed without her.

In the morning I wake up to find a text from Lilah. It’s the first time she’s reached out since she asked for the break.

Lilah: Check the front porch. I’d wish you good luck tonight, but you don’t need it.

I roll off the couch and trudge to the front door. Thankfully, my ankle feels fine. I did what I was supposed to last night—soaked in the hot tub, iced it while I drank a beer, got a semidecent sleep. I almost expect to find Lilah standing there when I open the door, but the message was sent two hours ago, and Lilah’s at work.

A small box sits on the stoop, a notecard attached to it. I turn it over.

It’s not quite what you’re used to, but know I’m rooting for you tonight.


The box is full of Hot Lips. I smile and pop one in my mouth, despite the fact that sugar is not on the menu today. I snap a picture and send it to her along with a thank-you. Her response comes a few minutes later, while I’m brewing a fresh pot of coffee.

Lilah: You’re going to be great.

I want her to be there with me, so I put it out there, even though I can already predict the response.

Ethan: I still have an extra ticket if you want it.

The next message takes a while longer to arrive. The hope I tried not to give in to deflates like a balloon.

Lilah: I have class tonight, but thank you. I’ll either catch the end at home or the closest pub on campus with all the twenty-one-year-old lushes. eyeroll.

I’d prefer no twenty-one-year-olds get anywhere near Lilah, but there’s not much I can do about that. I don’t know how to navigate the new boundaries, so I let her lead.

I get why she needs this time, even if I don’t like it. I know what we’re like when we’re together, because she consumes my world just as much as I seem to consume hers.

I fire off a quick thank-you, tell her to have a good day, and pour myself a coffee, feeling lighter than I have since she asked for space. I need to stop by my parents’ place this morning to drop off the tickets for tonight’s game before I head to the arena for the pregame skate.

My mom’s car isn’t in the driveway when I arrive, which I assume means she’s out buying groceries or something. I find my dad sitting on the screened-in porch with a travel mug of coffee in his hands.

“Hey, where’s Mom?”

“We ran out of cream. Coffee tastes like shit with milk unless it’s one of those expensive latte things.” He pats the arm of the chair beside him and inclines his head, an invitation to sit. “What brings you by?”

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